Dumphy: best-ever Gazette sub
HOW do you pen an obituary on a man who was better at making words sparkle than any journalist you’ve known? “Get going, tick-tock, don’t miss the deadline,” he would have chided.
“Tick-tock” would constantly ring in Tony’s subs’ ears as he reminded them that he wanted every single edition out on time.
He died last Thursday night (9 September), but even then the spirit of the Evening Gazette’s greatest ever sub stayed with us. His son, Alex, phoned the next morning to break the tragic news. “Dad told me you’d need to know early to get it into today’s paper,” he said.
And so, though news of his premature death shattered a normally vibrant floor, there was no slacking: the next edition carried Tony’s story and the back-bench were damned if it was going to be late.
As a new editor in June 2002, Tony told me: “Whatever else you face, you won’t have a problem with the paper getting out on time. That’s my job, and my promise is I won’t let you down.”
He didn’t. He would cajole the floor, from newsdesk to down-table subs, and the magic moment – barring technical disasters – would always arrive within two minutes of off-stone time. “It’s a wrap!” That would be Tony’s call across the top tables as the last page disappeared.
Only the editor was allowed to make the paper late. Even then, on those few occasions waiting for that late picture, that last paragraph or legal check, the pressure was on.
“Press the button,” he would tease.
“C’mon, pressure makes diamonds….”
Tony, aged 53, died at home in Great Acton, North Yorkshire, with his family beside him. He had been diagnosed with cancer in July.
He joined The Evening Gazette in 1979 as a sub-editor; this year was his 25th with the paper. He held all production positions, including chief sub editor from 1989, production editor from 1994 and, since 1996, head of editorial production. It was in these senior design roles that Tony three times won The Splash Award for front and back-page sub-editing in the North East regional press awards. The hat trick came in May.
Those who knew Tony knew he could have gone right to the top and edited papers better than many he worked for.
But, in his mind, he was already in the top job, tweaking copy so it stood out; creating superb headlines, shining brightly above brilliantly designed splashes; and working tirelessly to keep the production wheels moving smoothly.
Tony truly loved his work. He would delight in adding his own touch of quality to every edition; he enjoyed tackling new technology, introducing Tera upgrades, not only to The Gazette, but to many sister papers across Trinity Mirror; and he was skilled at guiding numerous editors – certainly this one – and driving the whole newsfloor with enthusiasm.
Born in Manchester, Tony fell into journalism while at Queen’s University, Belfast. Conor O’Clery, now North America Editor of The Irish Times, writes: “Tony was one of the pioneering editors of Gown, the student newspaper at Queen’s. He guided it through a time of great turbulence in the university and on the streets of Belfast in the early 1970s. He was stabbed and almost killed when he became the victim of mistaken identity.
Several student colleagues helped nurse him back to health. During this time, he stayed with my family in Newcastle, Co Down. He introduced my son Michael to bird-watching.
Today, Michael is one of Ireland’s foremost bird artists.”
At Queen’s, Tony met future wife, Barbara, the daughter of Freddy Gamble, the former deputy editor of The Belfast Telegraph. The Dumphys, who have a daughter, Alison, as well as son Alex, would have celebrated their 30th anniversary next year.
After university, Tony worked at She magazine and on a series of weekly papers. Before joining The Gazette, he and Barbara lived in the Pyrenees, where he worked as a shepherd.
But it was at The Gazette that he made an impression on so many.
Liz Page, managing director at Newsquest (York), was trained by him in the 1980s. She writes: “He instilled in me a passion for subbing. While many subs have a reputation for cynicism, my memories of Tony are when he used to grab copy from the chief sub’s basket and gleefully scurry back to his desk with the words ‘another little gem to polish’.”
Former Gazette editor Paul Robertson, now editor of The Newcastle Evening Chronicle, writes: “There are not many people you could describe as a legend: Tony is. He will live on through the fantastic team spirit he built at The Gazette.”
It’s a wrap, Tony.
Steve Dyson, Editor The Evening Gazette
INSPIRATIONAL, GENUINE AND KIND
WHEN Tony Dumphy was heard muttering “Come on Queen Mum, do it for me” as the subs arrived for work, we knew it was a quiet news day on Teesside. But once he was screaming “Let’s eat babies” with a glint in his eye, while dragging furiously on a fag, we knew things must have perked up and we were in for an adrenaline-charged morning in The Evening Gazette newsroom.
“Dumf” was an inspirational, genuine, kind and hilarious character, who has been taken from us far too early. He was a brilliant journalist, who cared passionately about newspapers and loved his job. As chief sub, he nurtured a generation of talent – always patient, always encouraging and full of advice for the lowliest trainee. When the Queen Mum did “do it” for Tony in March 2002 – ten years after I left The Gazette – I thought of him and got in touch. (It’s not that he had anything against the nation’s favourite grandma, he just loved big stories.) Dumf recalled the moment he heard the news, saying: “I’d just finished doing the Sports paper on Saturday and went for a quick pint at The Laurel. Then I turned on my car radio to be told the old dear’s bungee rope had finally snapped as she bounced between Earth and eternity. I phoned work but the press crew had pissed off and scattered to the four corners of Teesside. No one in circulation. Oh for an hour earlier, and I would have ruled the world. But all the glory went to the bloody Sundays. I’m waiting for the Pope now, by way of consolation.”
It’s hard to fathom, but Dumf has gone and the Pope’s still here.
Dumf, you’re a legend. Thanks for everything mate. God bless.
Will Hagerty Deputy Night Editor The Sun